EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in a summer series looking at Mid-Ohio Valley high school football teams and their prospects for the fall. Today's feature team is the Parkersburg Catholic Crusaders.
PARKERSBURG - Last season was a rarity for the Parkersburg Catholic High School football team, as the Crusaders missed the state playoffs for only the second time in the last 19 years.
Despite winning three of its final four regular-season games, PCHS couldn't overcome a 2-4 start, finishing at 5-5 in Jeff Campbell's second year at the Crusader grid helm.
Jeff Campbell is starting his third year as head football coach at Parkersburg Catholic, with the Crusaders looking to better last season’s 5-5 record and get back to the state playoffs after missing out on them in 2012.
This fall, Catholic will be without its top two rushers (Mitch Davis, 124 carries, 672 yards, 3 TDs; Charles Schriner, 97 carries, 501 yards, 6 TDs) as well as leading receiver (Davis, 20 catches, 239 yards, 3 TDs) from last season who graduated along with a pair of two-way linemen in Garet Leisure and Joe Welch.
But PC returns an experienced quarterback in two-year starter Payton Sturm, a senior who was 52-for-100 passing last year for 588 yards and seven touchdowns.
Plus, Campbell plans to utilize the talents of two other running backs who got some valuable playing time last year as sophomores in Jake Boice (40 carries, 266 yards, 1 TD) and Ryan Schriner (37 carriers, 183 yards, 1 TD) and has wide receiver Nick Roedersheimer, also a junior, back after catching 16 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns last season.
PARKERSBURG CATHOLIC CRUSADERS
(All games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted)
Sept. 7at Pocahontas County, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 13at St. Marys
Sept. 20at Calhoun County
Sept. 28Wirt County
Oct. 5Doddridge County, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 12South Harrison
Oct. 18at Valley (Fayette)
Nov. 2Gilmer County
But Campbell has used the three-week coaching period in June as mostly "a learning period for us, especially our younger guys and first-year players in the program.
"It's good for them to learn and to get some reps too, since we've got a large group of freshmen this year. So that's a benefit for us to see what they can do and for them to be able to step in and show what they're learning because before you know it, everything starts in earnest again" when actual pre-season practice kicks off Monday, Aug. 5.
Catholic's numbers are right now at 20 to 22, which is about what size team the Crusaders are able to put on the field most years.
The junior class is pretty much the key to this season for the Crusaders. "A fair amount of them got an awful lot of playing time as sophomores," said Campbell. "So as far as experience, most of them have what we usually only find with seniors," in a junior group that also includes Evan Summers, Evan Dexter, Ryan Helm and Christian Hushion.
Campbell said that he and his staff "grew a lot last year" in organizing things better than they had in his first year as the guy in charge. "Now we know what needs to be done when, especially the stuff that needs to be done ahead of time. So I think we're a bit further along than normal at this point this year and seem to have a better handle now on the behind-the-scene things."
On missing out on the playoffs last season, Campbell said that although "the goal is always to make the playoffs, I like the way when we make the playoffs, that we earn it.
"Just look at the schedule we play. Every school we play is bigger than us by far, whether it's enrollment or numbers on the field. To me, if you make the playoffs, that's a great thing because you truly have deserved it.
"Last year, I was really proud of our kids and how much we improved from Day 1 until the end of the season. It took us a while to get going last year and we had some injuries that slowed our progress too. But if you make it into the playoffs with our schedule, then you've done well - and that's obviously where we want to go."